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My Dog Ate Paper Towel! Here’s What to Do (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Joanna Woodnutt

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Dr. Joanna Woodnutt

BVM BVS (Veterinarian)

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Dogs are intelligent creatures, often full of curiosity. Sometimes their curiosity can get the better of them and you may suddenly find your pet with their nose in the trash, rummaging through the rubbish and working their way through a pile of dirty paper towels.

What do you do when you realize your dog ate a paper towel? This is a guide on how to deal with your overly curious pet and the incident of paper towel snacking.

Please note: if you discover that your pet has eaten something potentially harmful, it is always best to call your veterinarian immediately.

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Will Eating a Paper Towel Hurt My Dog?

Paper towels, toilet rolls, and tissues like Kleenex are all made from wood pulp. Dogs cannot digest paper towels. This means that paper towels and tissues can form a blockage in a dog. Whether this blockage forms depends on the amount eaten, how small the pieces were, and the size of your dog—as well as some luck. The other danger of dogs eating paper towels is that they may contain harmful substances, depending on what they were used for. Cleaning products, bleach, nail varnish remover, and rubbing alcohol can all be dangerous to dogs if eaten.

My Dog Ate Paper Towel – What Do I Do?

1. Find Out What Your Dog Has Eaten

brown spanish dog opening her big mouth
Image Credit: Lucia Romero, Shutterstock

The first thing you need to check is what exactly your dog has eaten and how much. If your dog ate paper towels, this information is vital to share with your vet as it will affect the treatment plan for your dog.

Is it a small piece of clean paper towel fresh off the roll? Or is it a scrunched-up pile of kitchen roll used to wipe up the bacon grease from breakfast this morning? Or it is a handful of toilet roll that was used to clean up a bleach spill in the bathroom? Maybe they didn’t eat the paper towel itself, but did they enjoy a bite of the cardboard tube?

It can be hard to work out exactly what your dog has eaten, especially if you weren’t in the room when it happened, or if they are particularly fast eaters! However, this is a really important step, particularly if the paper towel was used to clean up spills of things like grease, bleach, or nail varnish remover, which can be harmful to dogs if consumed.

2. Find Out When It Was Eaten

Hopefully, if your dog ate a paper towel, you caught them in the act, so you know exactly when they ate the paper towel. However, some dogs prefer a little privacy for their snacking, and you may only notice an upturned bin or a mess by the kitchen counter when you return to the scene of the crime hours later.

Whenever you discover that your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t, always ring your vet straight away. If they have eaten something that could cause harm, there are a couple of time-sensitive treatment options that your vet may perform. For instance, for some types of towels, removing them before it gets into the guts is best—either by causing vomiting or using a long, flexible camera called an endoscope. The contents of the stomach move into the guts within around 2 hours, meaning if you wait rather than call your vet, you might miss out on these easy and safe treatment options.

3. Check Your Dog

Depending on the amount and content of the paper towel consumed, dogs may react very differently. Some may appear perfectly fine and continue their day as normal, including eating and drinking without difficulty. Others may start to vomit, particularly if they have eaten a large volume of paper towel, or if it contains substances such as grease or bleach. They can be quiet, appear uncomfortable and unable to settle, and refuse to drink water or eat food. If they have eaten a lot of paper towel, their bellies can look bloated, which may be tender when touched.

If several hours have passed after eating the paper towel, your dog may have diarrhea since it can irritate the lining of the intestines as it passes through the digestive tract. They can strain to go to the toilet and may pass small pieces of the paper towel in their stool.

No matter how your dog is currently behaving, it is always best to contact your vet for advice as sometimes, it can take a few hours for the damage to be noticeable, especially if your dog is stoical.

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Image Credit: Gladskikh Tatiana, Shutterstock

4. Ring Your Veterinarian

Once you have done some detective work and figured out what and how much your dog ate, when they ate it, and how they are looking, call your vet. If they’re not open, call your nearest open veterinary clinic, which may be an emergency clinic.

They will ask you the questions that have been mentioned above so they can provide the best care possible for your dog. If it is a small amount of clean kitchen roll or toilet paper, you may not need to take them in. However, if your dog ate a large amount of paper towel, has eaten any amount of paper towel with a harmful substance, or is unwell, vomiting, or having diarrhea, your vet will probably want to see your dog immediately.

5. Follow Your Vet’s Instructions

Do not try to feed your dog after they have eaten the paper towel, even if they seem keen. If they have a blockage caused by the paper towel, this may cause them to start vomiting. And if your vet decides your dog needs an anesthetic for an X-ray or surgery, it is best that they have not eaten beforehand.

We wouldn’t recommend trying to make your pet sick at home unless your veterinarian asks you to. Here are some reasons why:

  • If they have eaten a lot of paper towel it may get blocked on the way back up
  • If they have eaten paper towel with a harmful substance this may cause damage when they vomit it back up
  • They may already be vomiting
  • They may be very lethargic and too weak to vomit
  • They may inhale their vomit, causing further problems
  • If your dog doesn’t react by vomiting, the chemicals you used can be toxic to your dog

If your vet has asked you to attend the clinic, please do so as quickly as possible. If your dog ate paper towels containing a cleaning product, nail varnish remover, or other chemicals, don’t forget to bring the bottle or packet with you to the veterinarian. The more information your vet has, the better. They may call a specialist poison unit that will offer information on how to deal with different chemicals so your dog can receive the best treatment.

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What Happens if a Dog Eats a Paper Towel?

Your vet may recommend several options, depending on all the factors mentioned above. Some things your vet may want to do include:

1. Giving Your Dog an Injection to Make Them Sick

dog vet injection
Image Credit: Photographee, Shutterstock

Your vet can give your dog an injection to make them sick as long as the paper towel was eaten within the last 2–3 hours. This injection is much safer than inducing vomiting in a dog at home—it’s much more likely to work, it’s safer to use, and your vet is on hand to make sure the process is as safe as possible.

2. Putting Your Dog Under a General Anesthetic to Remove the Paper With an Endoscope

As previously mentioned, vets can pass a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into your dog’s stomach to remove objects. This is not always possible—some vets don’t have access to this equipment, some dogs are too big or too small to use it, and some paper is too fragile to be pulled out like this. This technique can also only be used where the object has been in the stomach for less than a couple of hours, as once it is in the guts, the scope can’t reach it.

3. Admitting Your Dog to Hospitalize and Monitor Them

Your veterinarian might recommend that your dog is hospitalized so they can keep a close eye on their symptoms and be ready to react if the paper towel begins to cause a problem.

4. Taking a Blood Test to Check Organ Function and Hydration

If cleaning products were on the paper or your dog is already showing symptoms, your vet might want to check your dog’s blood for signs of a problem. This involves taking a blood sample from the arm or neck and running it through a machine. The machine measures levels of enzymes and chemicals in the blood that might indicate a problem with the organs.

5. Putting Your Dog on a Drip if They Are Dehydrated or if Toxins Need to Be Flushed Out

a sick dog after surgery in vet clinic
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

If your dog has been vomiting already or they have eaten something toxic, your veterinarian might recommend that your dog is placed onto a drip. This involves putting a needle into their veins and giving them fluids to rehydrate them. This is especially important for vomiting dogs who might not be able to keep water down.

6. Sedating or Giving Your Dog a General Anesthetic to Take an X-ray Image of Their Stomach and Intestines and Check for a Blockage

If your dog ate a paper towel and is showing symptoms, your vet will want to know where in the intestines the paper is and whether it looks like it’s stuck. Taking an X-ray can help. X-rays don’t show paper towel, but they will show any build-up of gas behind a blockage. If your vet isn’t sure whether the X-rays show a blockage, they may recommend hospitalizing your dog and looking again in a few hours to check whether the gas is still moving.

7. Performing Surgery to Remove the Paper Towel

If your dog does get a blockage, removing the blockage by surgery is the only option. You cannot get a dog to pass a blockage any other way. The paper is often so stuck that the guts are stretched to their limit—blood doesn’t move through them properly and the gut wall begins to die or tear from the pressure. Your veterinary surgeon can open the guts and remove the blockage and may even need to take some damaged gut out as well.

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My Dog Ate Paper Towel – Will He Be Ok?

Luckily, it’s rare for dogs to need surgery for eating a paper towel. It can be a scary and worrying time when your pet eats something it shouldn’t. It is important to stay calm and seek veterinary help as soon as you discover that your dog ate a paper towel so they can receive the right treatment promptly and be back to causing trouble as soon as possible!

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